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Activist On California NCAA Law


College athletes in California can finally get in on the billion-dollar industry of college sports. A new bill allows them to profit from their own name, image and likeness, meaning they can sign endorsements, hire agents and sell their autographs. California Governor Gavin Newsom recently signed the bill, which is set to take effect in 2023. The move is part of a longstanding and highly contentious debate that, for some, centers around issues of race.

Harry Edwards is a professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley, and a former NCAA athlete himself. He's been a longtime advocate for change because he says the system is fundamentally unjust.

HARRY EDWARDS: We have a set of circumstances where increasingly, in basketball, most certainly, and in football, it is the black athlete that is the backbone of the whole process of producing this tremendous wealth. You look at the NFL, you look at the quarterbacks in the top 25 collegiate programs, and increasingly, they are black. That means that what we're looking at here is not just a situation of financial exploitation but of racial domination where you have white - overwhelmingly white coaches, athletic departments, college presidents and chancellors profiting off of the uncompensated labor of black players in football and basketball.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The NCAA is saying this is an affront to amateurism. What's your response to that?

EDWARDS: The only affront to amateurism involved in collegiate athletics is the NCAA itself. The whole notion of the student athlete was perpetrated by the NCAA and its attorneys in the 1950s to keep from paying workmen's comp to injured athletes. They simply declared them not to be employees, but student athletes. Everybody is making money except the athletes who produce it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: There is some concern that this kind of law could mean that it will exacerbate some of the inequalities within the college sports systems - that, you know, the money will go to the DI schools and that the athletes that are the most prominent will get a lot of the attention, a lot of the deals. And others may not.

EDWARDS: Well, the inequality is already there. You have coaches in the SCC who make more than the football budget for some other Division I institutions in the same state. The other point is that the money that the athletes would get through being able to capitalize on their own names, images and so forth comes from sponsors. It comes from people that they would represent in terms of a particular product. This is not money that's coming out of the pocket of the school or out of the pockets of the NCAA.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The NCAA is expected to release a report later this month with recommendations on how to manage these new privileges. What do you hope to see in that report?

EDWARDS: Well, I hope that the NCAA will try to get out in front of it, set up standards which accept the legislation that has occurred in California. It was written in such a way so that it takes effect in 2023. That's plenty of time for the NCAA to make the necessary adjustments that it feels it has to make in order to make sure that athletes are not exploited. I think that those days have to come to an end.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Dr. Harry Edwards is a professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley. Thank you very much.

EDWARDS: Thank you very much for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF OATMELLO'S "SUNDAY AFTERNOON") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.